Words and Photos by Olivia Bauso
Cara Livermore is a food photographer, screen-to-print designer, hand-letterer and designer of the local indie food magazine, Chickpea. She invites me into her home, where I get to see the kitchen, the computer and the woman behind the mag.
Cara, a LeRoy native, attended SUNY Oswego. Her degree in Studio Art technically had a focus on illustration and drawing, though she branched out into more than just that. Cara thanks the knit design of the program for allowing her to practice mixed media for most projects-- though she purposefully pieced together her schedule to encompass as much as she could. She also attributes her “craft first” philosophy to her undergrad environment. Cara explains, “Being in an environment where you’re honing tons of different craft skills at the same time just made me want to do that all the time-- I think a lot of creatives would say the same.” She continues, “You work on the work first, which has made it hard for me to focus on the business, because I really just want to focus on bettering the work.” Luckily, Cara’s partner Bob Lawton handles the majority of sales and shipping logistics, allowing her to focus more on her craft.
In her last few years of undergrad Cara practiced mostly chalk, pastels and graphite sticks and continued this trend post-graduation. Cara explains, “I like drawing materials where I can get my hands dirty, and really get into it.” Though now, she incorporates more painting into her work to balance intricate work with more fluid motions, and to avoid aggravating her carpal tunnel. It first began when Cara was named an Etsy Featured Seller back in 2012, shooting her custom order workload up to full days for almost five months straight. Cara laughs about the syndrome, saying she merely keeps a brace on hand for those 12 hour days-- the pain just means she’s working extra hard.
In response to all the drawing and work Cara had been doing at the end of undergrad, she began to lean towards cooking as alternate creative outlet. In 2010, she and Bob began a food blog on Tumblr called “hipsterfood” that followed their vegan cooking journey, and gained a ton of traction. Cara thinks their following came with a stroke of luck: “I guess we were at the right time-- and I was posting good content multiple times a day,” she says. With about 50,000 followers in their community, and too many negative comments on the blog, Cara decided she wanted to keep what she had going without the anonymous backlash. Thus, Chickpea magazine was born.
"It began as a community project,” Cara says modestly. She wanted to give her community members a platform to contribute their own vegan stories, and use her creative background to produce a tangible product. By turning it into a business where contributors were being compensated for their work, the work became “so much better--” as you could imagine. But the business of the magazine wasn’t a success overnight. In fact, Cara and Bob had pretty much no idea what they were doing: “When I first started, there was nothing out there to tell you how to start a magazine like there sort of is now, and to do it all by yourself was a daunting task,” Cara explains.
Funding the business was the pair’s first step, and their first Kickstarter campaign was a wild success. VegNews reports: “The two set a goal of $1,000 in October 2011 and found themselves completely funded in just three days. By the time the October 13 fundraising deadline passed, they had received more than $8,500 in donations from 222 backers.” Though their crowdfunding proved to be successful, Cara and Bob had only estimated shipping and profit margins for the first issue, and ended up selling about 300 subscriptions at a huge loss.
Through trial and error they’re figuring things out. On the design side, Cara has upgraded her creative process from Photoshopping each page individually to teaching herself inDesign: “A tearful year-long process,” she jokes. And on the publishing side, the mag has bounced around from printer to printer-- some local, some international.
Chickpea continues to grow daily-- especially on social media. The magazine’s initial following came from the loyal hipsterfood Tumblr fans, and from the traction the mag gained after its successful Kickstarter campaign and nomination for a Saveur Best Food Blog award in 2013. Now, Cara attributes her success to her consistent online content, especially on Instagram, though the mag still gets the bulk of its traffic from Tumblr. “--And I thought Tumblr was dead, but I guess that’s not the case” Cara laughs.
The mag’s first contributors came from the same pool of hipsterfood followers, and though the magazine’s following will grow, its amount of contributors will remain about the same. Cara began by publishing 10-17 contributors, depending on features and separate photographers. Chickpea aims to publish family recipes and personal stories-- not necessarily professional food writers, which gives an opportunity for diverse voices to be heard. In addition to contributors’ work, Cara will fill in about 90 percent of the issue with her own photography, lettering and additional design work before sending it off to print.
Moving forward, Cara aims to update the Chickpea site with a searchable, pinable online archive. This, in addition to selling more paper goods and expanding their content, will in turn create a more well rounded product and experience for readers
The quick and dirty on Chickpea Magazine:
- Their issues are compiled with food, recipes, discussions, articles, interviews, city guides, book reviews, and more.
- The content of the mag is evergreen (not timely news), which makes it ideal for any coffee table or gift.
- Their print issues are made with recycled materials and are meant to last.
- Their content comes from people all over the world, from any background and skill level.
- There is no advertising in any paid issue, ever.
- The magazine's content is 100% vegan.
- Digital copies include extra bonus content found nowhere else.
- They currently have more than 250,000 readers.
Cara from Chickpea will be setting up shop all year at our Brainery Bazaar. This month you can pick up an issue of Chickpea and some new pieces of her work (preview Cara’s work on her Etsy shop, website and Instagram!). The next issue of Chickpea will be available mid-month, so be sure to check back in May for your paper copy.